GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

All posts tagged snow

What’s the difference between global warming and climate change?

Categories: Science
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Recently I decided to trace why we seem to read and hear the expression “climate change” more often these days than “global warming.” I’m not the only person who has noticed that the global changes we are seeing do not trend uniformly in the direction of warming. What about the many snow storms this winter, reaching farther south than usual in the U.S.? What about the apparent increase in the number of hurricanes? What about the thick air over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, not to mention the un-breathable air much of the time in Beijing, China?

I decided to Google this exact question: When did “global warming” become “climate change”? It turns out this was not the best way to word my question. I went through the first four pages of answers, some helpful but many rants by people who don’t “believe” in either global warming or climate change. But here’s what I learned.

The entire history of these two expressions is available on those pages in two or three versions. I noted an article in the New York Times on Oct. 15, 2011, that seemed to use the two terms more or less interchangeably. However, an earlier NASA article (12/04/08) preferred “global climate change” because: “Global warming refers [only] to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect.” This was an Aha! moment for me.

The articles I read or scanned quickly show a gradual evolution in preference for using the word “change” over “warming” in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe we can trace this to the fact that it was in 1988 that an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by the United Nations.

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Dynamic Earth: Yellowstone geology doesn’t stay the same

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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Yellowstone Treasures‘s geology writing strives to keep up—

If you were to contemplate nature’s many facets and how quickly things change over the seasons and the years, you might think that you can at least count on the rocks and the mountains to stay the same. Wrong! Geoscientists will tell you that even mountains have their own dynamics. But their rate of change is much slower than humans can easily grasp in their relatively short lifetimes. Nature shapes the land we live on over centuries and millennia, but the rate at which geoscientists learn about it using new methods, ideas, and equipment is constantly accelerating.

Wanting to keep track of all this activity as it pertains to Yellowstone Park for the updated fourth edition of my guidebook, I was delighted when my old friend Dr. Jo-Ann Sherwin offered to bring us up to date about Yellowstone’s geology. I’ve known Jo-Ann ever since she was an outstanding student, whose advisor during her Brown University PhD research was my first husband Bill Chapple. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in their geology department and has gone on to a long career in research and teaching. She also lives in Idaho Falls, convenient to the west side of Yellowstone.

Jo-Ann reviewed the entire book and made numerous suggestions. She also rewrote large portions of our geological history essay, “The Stories in Yellowstone’s Rocks.” Our goal is to make our explanations accurate but concise and as clear as possible without any technical writing. Here’s a short sample from our essay that draws upon recent research into the source and age of the water for the park’s thousands of geysers and hot springs (hydrothermal features):

What makes the different hydrothermal features do what they do? Basically, the great volume of groundwater is heated by very hot rocks quite near the surface at Yellowstone.
There is a very large amount of old groundwater, at least 60 but perhaps greater than 10,000 years old, just above the magma below Yellowstone. The source of this water may have been the glaciers that covered the area or rain and snow in the surrounding mountains, 12 to 45 miles (20 to 70 km) distant. Present-day rain and snowmelt seep down and mix with this old water, become warmed to the boiling point, boil into steam, expand greatly, and find a way to escape upward. Most of the features occur where faults are common, making it easy for the heated groundwater and steam to return to the surface.

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An unlikely place for an article: “An Unlikely Look at Yellowstone’s Geysers”—and Fall Closure begins soon

Categories: News, On the Web, Thermal features, Trip planning
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The website Weather.com just came up with this beautiful collection of close-ups of the amazing variety of colors found around Yellowstone’s hot springs:

http://www.weather.com/news/science/unlikely-look-yellowstones-geysers-photos-20131030

Just now you have only through this coming Sunday, November 3, to take in all the treasures of the park, since all but the Gardiner to Northeast Entrance road will be closed as of Monday for the annual fall-into-winter break. This is when the park’s natural features and the animals, including two-legged ones who work there, get a break from the pressures of visitors.

Reopening to snowcoaches, snowmobiles, and skiers begins on December 15 this year (snow accumulation permitting), except for the East Entrance Road, which will open on December 22. The winter season continues until mid March. Then there’s another break for road plowing until late April 2014.

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West Yellowstone is not to be outdone

Categories: News, Trip planning
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In the ongoing saga about rescuing Yellowstone’s early spring season, the town of West Yellowstone at the West Entrance is entering the fray.

The town grader and operator were sent to assist with the removal of ice and snow under the direction of the National Park Service on Monday. This means it looks highly likely that the West Entrance will open on Friday, April 26 [2013], after all.

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Yellowstone’s roads to open on time after all

Categories: Trip planning
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Private funds have come to the aid of Yellowstone Park’s beleaguered superintendent, who had announced a two-week delay in the spring opening of the park’s roads. The Cody Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson Town Council have raised the needed cash to assist the park by plowing roads through the East and South Entrances beginning next month.

Early vacationers will be able access Old Faithful from the west and north beginning April 26, 2013, and Canyon from the east on May 3. In addition, the South Entrance should open as originally planned on May 10. The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway will open June 14. No announcement has yet been made about the opening of the Beartooth Highway.

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Only in America: Business comes to the rescue in Yellowstone

Categories: Transportation, Winter
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Every spring Yellowstone is faced with a big job: plowing the hundreds of miles of roads that have been closed since November while many feet of snow piles up. The goal is to open the entrance roads gradually, starting in mid April, so the park spends more than a month and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the roads ready.

However, this year’s sequestration budget cuts [2013] threaten to disrupt this pattern, and Superintendent Dan Wenk of Yellowstone decided that opening two weeks later than usual would be one of his needed cutbacks. But business owners and their organizations in the Wyoming gateway towns of Jackson and Cody are not going to sit back and let this happen. By yesterday, Jackson groups had raised the funds to pay for plowing near the south gate, while those in Cody, Wyoming, have met almost half their goal to open the east gate. The state of Wyoming is providing equipment and personnel to help plow park roads, and business groups will pay back the transportation department for whatever it costs the agency to use its own workers on the federal roads.

There is no word yet as to just when the roads will be ready for auto traffic, but we’ll no doubt be learning about that soon.

Hooray for private business looking out for not just their own interests but those of the many folks who have planned early spring vacations in America’s first and greatest national park!

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It’s been an unusual winter at Old Faithful Village

Categories: Winter
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[2011] Carolyn Loren, a Yellowstone Park interpretive ranger who keeps excellent tabs on the geysers and is spending this break at Old Faithful—when almost nobody is there and the roads have not yet been plowed—posted this today, answering questions others had asked her.

The benches at Grand, Riverside and other spots are completely covered as of now. It’s March 24, though, and it’s getting above freezing most days. I should also say that bison walking on snow then walked on two Riverside benches, crushing them. They’re the two directly opposite Riverside. They’re toast. As for carcasses, I don’t see how the Geyser Hill carcass can go anywhere; the ones near the outbound road should be mostly eaten by opening [day (April 15)], but there will be more between now and then. Law enforcement will probably open and close as they feel they need to. There should be plenty of grizzly food lots of places in the park, though.

For those readers who have not yet had a chance to visit Old Faithful’s Upper Geyser Basin and see the geysers erupt, I’ll explain her post a bit. Grand and Riverside Geysers are two of the wonderful predictable geysers in the area, where people often sit for an hour or more waiting for eruptions. I’ve personally waited for Grand for an hour and a half or more in sub-freezing temperatures or blistering sun, but it’s always worth the wait.

Carolyn had recently reported as many as nine carcasses of animals that died of starvation near Old Faithful this winter, up from seven, as I mentioned in my March 16th post. She is pointing out that the law enforcement rangers will keep people away from the relevant areas, if the carcasses are not consumed by scavengers before the park reopens.

It’s a wild place. Natural processes are allowed to run their course whenever possible here.

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Yellowstone roads close for early spring break

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Winter
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I find it ironic that on the very first day of road closure, the most snow I’ve seen on the Old Faithful Webcam all winter has piled up around the Old Faithful Geyser sign, and it’s still coming down in mid afternoon!

If you use a PC rather than a Mac, you should be able to see the Old Faithful Webcam yourself at:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/yellowstonelive.htm. For the link I use on my Mac, write me at janet@yellowstonetreasures, and I’ll send it to you.

This has been a spectacular winter for snow cover in the park. I wonder what it will mean when it all melts—lots of flooding? many animal carcasses showing they didn’t make it through the winter? A ranger has reported that there are at least seven bison carcasses in the Old Faithful area right now. Time will tell what spring will be like.

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Snowpack and Bison

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Much has been written in the past few weeks [2011] about Yellowstone’s bison and their brucellosis problem. I will not go into details here, which are much too complicated to be dealt with effectively in a guidebook writer’s post, but I will send along the URL of the best summary of the situation I have come across lately. It’s in today’s East Oregonian and written by Samantha Tipler.

Much of this year’s bison dilemma stems from an excellent snowpack in the park, which is hard on all the animals while being great for human visitors’ enjoyment of this beautiful place. The February snowpack map of the Rocky Mountain states and Alaska shows western Yellowstone with 110% to 129% of “normal”—taken as the average snowpack from 1971 to 2000—and eastern Yellowstone (where most of the mountains are) as 90% to 109% of normal. You can look at a snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

How I wish I could go back this winter! But it is not to be. I do have the delightful memories of three winter trips there: in 1988, before that summer’s devastating fires; in 1990, when I first got to see Lower Falls with its fabulous ice-cone; and most recently in 2006.

You have only a couple more weeks before the park closes for its annual early spring road plowing and readying the facilities for the summer season. All roads close to oversnow travel by March 15. Then the various roads and accommodations gradually reopen, beginning April 15. Details about the facilities are at the NPS Opening & Closing Dates for Facilities page. But beware, this year almost all accommodations are already booked through most of the summer.

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Snow bikes

Categories: On the Web, Transportation, Winter
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Behold! Another mode of transportation I didn’t know existed: a snow bicycle, in particular one made by Surly Bikes. This is not a commercial, and I know very little about bikes, but it seems like an interesting idea to me. Here’s what I read about it:

Recently, 53-year-old Rick Buchanan was turned away when he tried to lead a group of snow cyclists into Yellowstone National Park.
Tim Reid, Yellowstone’s chief ranger, told Buchanan that the bike is not an approved means of winter travel, therefore, the group could not ride in the park. Under Yellowstone’s winter management plan, one can only enter the park by approved snowmobiles, snowcoaches, cross-country skis, or snowshoes. But the snow bike has actually been gaining popularity in the past 5 years.

My hope is that the park authorities will get in step with this new possibility and begin allowing them into the park during the winter season.
For more details, see “Snow Cyclists in Yellowstone.”

2011

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